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NEXT ROVING RACE: MADAGASCAR 2014

RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016 Blogs

Pre-Awards Banquet Musings
26-Feb-2016 12:05:27 PM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

The camp after day 4 was sopping wet.  Now that we’re in the lowlands of Sri Lanka, rain comes and goes almost every hour.  Luckily we have tents, but that didn’t stop the frogs and flies from hopping and flying around our dirty bodies.  To give you an idea of my sleeping situation: I place my sleeping bag on top of my sleeping mat, I sleep on top of my sleeping bag (the heat – oh my god), rest my feet atop my backpack (the twisted ankle from day 1 demands that I keep my feet elevated through the night to reduce the swelling), and I try to lay still and not move so as not to irritate my sunburn on my neck, arms, and legs.  It’s difficult for those of us who are energy sapped already – and it’s made more so by the tap tap tap of rain on the tent and frequent swatting away of flies and mosquitoes.  We’re filthy after days of rain and heat, sweat and suncream, insect repellent and messy GUs are all matted on the surface of our bodies, embedded in the creases of our skin. 

 

After a sleepless night, I change my initial decision to stay with camp, and instead ask to return to Kandy with some other competitors who have withdrawn.  Weak from two days of vomiting, four days of camping, and five nights in camps, if I can’t eat, the least I want is a bed to sleep in.  I want to rest, and I want to bathe.  I take the 6 hour car back to Kandy, I stomach the cost of transport and two extra nights in the hotel. 

 

I call, text, and email those closest to me to let them know I’m well.  I know how worrying an unexplained ‘W’ on the website can be.  I’ve eaten one meal, I’m tired but I’m hoping it’s something some sleep and some food will heal.  This too shall pass. 

 

Have I given myself something to be proud of?

 

The outpour of love from my friends makes me feel less alone in the mental struggle – people have written comments and messages on the 4Deserts website, they’ve texted and called, they’ve sent me facebook messages.  My friends seem proud of the fight I put up.  I promise myself not only to be continuously grateful for having such incredible people to call my friends, but also I promise that in the future, in my low moments on courses like these, to remember how much strength those around me give to me, even when I can’t see them. 

 

Still, the question remains, have I given myself something to be proud of?

 

I’ve battled with this question for a few days now.  Was the nausea really that bad? Was I really too drained to continue? Surely, now that I’ve recovered in a few days, if I had stuck it out for the length of day 4, taken that night’s sleep, the 30km day would’ve served as a short and well-timed rest day for me, and then success would be only a 50km day away.  How did I fall short? Was there more I could’ve done?

 

I might not ever know the definitive answers to these questions, save till I’m confronted again with a similar struggle.

 

The book I’m reading now, David Brooks’ ‘The Road to Character’, had a timely passage for me: “When most people think about the future, they dream up ways they might live happier lives.  But notice this phenomenon.  When people remember the crucial events that formed them, they don’t usually talk about happiness.  It is usually the ordeals that seem most significant.  Most people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.”

 

It occurred to me then, how lucky am I to have had a formative week filled with not just ordeal, but also with such happiness.   

 

Lots of love,

SJP

164/250
17-Feb-2016 03:59:44 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Today’s blog is an unfortunate one.  Its 6:30pm and I’ve made it back to camp, though today in the back of a jeep rather than on my feet.  Being sick wasn’t limited to yesterday, and bled into today’s experience from the onset of stage one.  Knowing I was already weak, I thought maybe I could take it slow today, get through it step by step, check point to checkpoint.  There are always silver linings, right? Walking as one of the ‘turtles’ (Cynthia’s words, not mine), would round out my RTP experience – I’ve been near the front, I was solidly in the middle in yesterday’s hiking (I think?), and being at the back of the pack was just another thing to experience.

Maybe about 3km in, I stopped trying to run – I’m really not tough enough for the run + vom combo of yesterday.  At about 5km in, I had my first pity sesh.  I sat by the side of the path, crying with frustration at the fact that I was only half way through section 1 on a 5 section day.  That’s when Cynthia came across me and said “Welcome to the turtles”.  We walked, slowly but surely, to checkpoint 1, the ~10km mark.  I rested there for a while and tried to eat some crisps.  Note to future self: whole foods is not the place to get crisps, if you’re going for crisps, do unhealthy and get something classic like lays. 

Left the checkpoint with Ally and Nathan, Karen’s daughter and Tony’s son, as the two sweepers behind me.  I did say back of the pack, right? Nathan told me later that it seemed I had two modes only: go, or heave.  Nathan, ally, and I really have no more secrets... to be honest I’m just surprised that they aren’t more grossed out by me.  Anyway, as you can probably guess, I was fading fast at this point – yesterday nothing stayed down, and this morning’s breakfast and snacks were already out of me.  I felt like an engine running out of fuel, there just wasn’t anything left inside of me. I felt empty and drained.  I kept trying to drink water because being dehydrated would be the absolute worst. 

We made it through the river crossing, past checkpoint two, before realising about halfway through the next section that I was totally out of energy.  I could walk, my body and muscles were ok, but I was I was getting so so tired.  I kept returning to the thought ‘give yourself something to be proud of’.  But to be proud of this race doesn’t mean I need to finish, it just means I have to have given it my all.  I didn’t want to come away and feel regret, and I wanted my story to be one of grit and resilience, not self-pity and weakness. 

I knew I couldn’t continue.  I wasn’t going to have the energy to finish this section in this heat feeling like this – let alone the rest of the day and the following three. And so we sat, Nathan, Ally, and I, waiting for the truck to come get us.  6 hours of walking, I was finished and knew I couldn’t have done more. 

I’m not sure how I feel about all of this yet. 164ish km is something I’m happy with and proud of, but I know I’ll struggle watching the others cross the finish line on Saturday and receive their awards at the ceremony that night.  I am frustrated with myself and my body, and I know I’ll spend a few days wondering if I could have done more and if the severity of the nausea was imagined. 

I’m sure I’ll feel better whenever my next meal stays down, and probably even more so after I’ve had some sleep. Your messages and comments have been so wonderful to read, and I’m sorry I’m not reporting better news or have stories on the next few stages.  Maybe another race, we’ll see. 

As always, lots of love,

SJP

Day 3
16-Feb-2016 02:12:27 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

It’s 5:15pm as I’m sat by the side of a reservoir – camp 4.  Today was a day of ups and downs.

About half an hour before bed, I found myself hunched over a bin at camp, waiting nervously for the contents of my stomach to empty out. I’m not sure what caused the nausea – the heat, the exertion, the food? Was it something I did wrong? I don’t really know.  Either way, I went to sleep, and had the first decent night’s sleep – YAY!

About two kilometres into today’ marathon, I found myself in the same position as last night, albeit in a different setting – sat on the side of the path, head between my legs. I’d run a little, then spew a little at the bushes and continue.  It’s just the gu and water mixing around in my stomach, I told myself. Returning to the moment by the side of the path, I feel embarrassed to admit the degree of self-pity I had. This is it, I thought, I’m going to be lying on the side of the path when the sweepers get to me, and they’ll whisk me off to camp and it’ll be over.   “Why did I sign myself up for this – why did I give this race as a birthday present to myself? Now on, no more ‘self-supported’ races, no more ultras in the heat, I’m not cut out for this.  Little 10kms will suffice, a road marathon now and again at most.” Then it occurred to me that people with decades on me, and people with injuries, were persevering, and here I was, young and fit, thinking it was over just because of a little vomit.  Pathetic, I scolded myself.  ‘Give yourself something to be proud of’. 

Luckily, Karen then comes up the mountain behind me.  Karen is a super woman.  She’s done 8 or 9 of these now, and is an absolute beast.  In her shadow, I followed her up the mountain.  I’m not sure about you all, but I lie to myself when I run: “You’re strong”, “The nausea is your imagination”, “you’ve done trails more difficult than this”, “you’re a Hong Kong girl – the heat and the humidity is your kingdom”.  The lies tend to work for me.  The more usual ones are “you can walk after the next two songs”, “you can get on the back of the next motorcycle or taxi that passes you”.  I lie to myself all the time. 

We get to checkpoint 1, and the doctor hands me an anti-nausea pill.  There are good and great days at Racing the Planet, and having had two great days already, I knew to just be happy with a good one today. we descended into the jungle, Karen and I shadows of each other – I feel like we’ve raced together before, but this is our first one together.  Honestly, my mood went up and down, when waves hit, I put in both earphones, put my sunglasses on, and kept my head down.  When the mood swung back up, Karen and I chatted away (hi Cynthia). 

Approaching checkpoint 2, I hit a big low.  I have to call someone, I thought, though I knew it was against the rules to use your phone.  “You can call someone when you get past checkpoint 2” (another lie, I knew it but told myself it again and again, reassuringly).  Who to call? I entertained myself with this question for a while.  Definitely not mum and dad, they’ll for sure tell me to pull out.  Clare, Katherine, kendall, Robbie, Shaun, Aaron, Jesse are all asleep.  Seb – the only one madder than I am, will for sure tell me to suck it up and continue (in reality, seb is wonderful, and probably would’ve told me to just rest for a while at the next checkpoint, but in my imagination he became the figure who would tell me to grow a pair).  Obviously I didn’t call anyone.  My phone is in the depths of my bag, and I highly doubted there was any reception in the middle of a Sri Lankan jungle.  I love to hate this race, and I hate that I love it. 

Checkpoint 2 to 3 was a ‘difficult’ section, meaning the terrain was technical. Whatever, to me that was an excuse to walk slower.  Youre in Hong Kong doing a casual 20km in the morning with Karen, you’ve got fresh legs and you’re used to this heat; it’s just a hike with Karen – more lies to myself. It passed.  When I got to checkpoint three, tony looked at me and said “how are you feeling?”, to which I smiled the same masking smile I give the race photographers and said “I’m great”.  Tony said “you say one thing, but you look another.”  Turns out I looked the way I felt, and there was no hiding it from tony.  The doctor told me to eat something, given that our glycogen stores were probably used up on days 1 and 2. I ate half a chocolate and peanut butter bar. 

Slowly but surely, we eventually finished the marathon and made it to camp.  It’s an adventure not a race.  Take it section by section.  Run long, run fast, but don’t outrun your love of running.  Give yourself something to be proud of.  Find the silver linings.  I spent a day with Karen, its day 3 and my body is still ok, walking instead of running means I can look up and out at the views rather than on the path. 

Lies too: days 1 2 and 3 are training for the rest of the race, the next three will be so manageable. Today was just walking, walking is what I do to rest while running, so today was basically a rest day, perfect timing! You’re so strong, you love this. 

Lie until you believe it. 

Ups and downs… I’m going to eat something soon.  Screw competition, screw ‘race’, it’s an experience and an adventure. 

Lots of love,

SJP

A humbling beginning
14-Feb-2016 02:30:17 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Happy to report that I’ve made it to camp safe and sound.  To start at the beginning, I want to tell you about my incredible tent mates.  4Deserts have done it again – matching me with incredibly successful/inspiration, yet strikingly humble ladies.  2 of them are Afghanis, part of the first mixed-gender ultra-marathon team from Afghanistan.  They’re amazing ladies, and quietly whisper dreams like “the roving race will one day be held in Afghanistan” and “I’d like to win”.  Leading them are three fearless ladies – Karen, one of my oldest 4deserts friends who treats Hong Kong’s mountains like her playground each morning.  Then there’s Belinda, a 4deserts club member (she’s done all 4) and a roving race frequenter – she’s got her name down for Leadville and UTMB this year, and is wholly responsible for planting the ‘4deserts grand slam plus’ in my head (doing all four races + the roving race in a year).  Cynthia Fish – one of the first ladies attempting to do the 4deserts grand slam plus this year.  And the last member of team Sahra – Connie, a corporate lawyer turned UN do-gooder.  The last lady is the one who has done the seven summits – climbed the highest peak on each continent, anyone guess her name? So you can say my athletic accomplishments pale in comparison, but what a week of inspiration (and of dangerously tempting ideas) I’ve got lined up for myself. 

We slept in a scout’s thing last night, the cold concrete not a welcome trade after our rather plush hotel in Kandy.

Anyway – so this morning began by opening Kendall’s letter.  For those of you who don’t know kendall, she’s one of my best friends and has gone beyond the calls of friendship by writing a card for me to read each day.  The quote in today’s one was about the beginnings of stories, a theme I returned to mentally multiple times today.  we woke at 5, a relatively sleepless night with 2 hour bursts of unconsciousness sprinkled in.  totally expected, and totally resolved by my first cup of coffee of 2016.  After downing 800 cals of purple mush mascarading as oats with blueberries, I toed the start line, ready for this adventure to begin.

And so like sheep, we followed our fearless front runners… 1.5km down the wrong route.  Awesome.  We then had the first of two ‘extremely difficult’ sections of today (the other two deemed ‘moderate’).  Classic 4deserts style: they give you a hard first section on the first day, to remind you that dirt is the original proving ground, and keep you humble.  The surface of the jungle was uneven, dried leaves and branches several inches deep meant we were never sure of our footing.  I recklessly flung my body downhill, like a child I fell on my front, on my back, and slid on my side down the sides of the mountain more times than I care to admit.  I felt alive and beautifully free, like a child with the jungle as my playground.  Roll my right ankle, roll my left, roll the right a few more times, then… slip and fall in a river, feeling my left ankle twist underneath me and smashing my ipod against a rock.  5.71 miles in… pure idiocy. I tentatively put some weight on it, ughh, it hurts, a wait the length of a song before continuing on.  After today, I saw the med team, I’ve twisted my ankle and then run/walked for ~20 miles on it, but it’s nothing irreparable, and nothing a night’s sleep with my foot elevated won’t fix.

 

Other highlights – the views were incredible, and today was a high for my mental state.  I’m not one for competing against others. It means you define your performance against those of others.  Instead, I found myself thinking, “give yourself something to be proud of”.  I think it worked.  I’m not sure how I’m ranked against the others, but I do know I was running with men for most of the time, and what an accomplishment to be ‘good’, but not just ‘for a girl’. 

I’m sunburnt, and my legs are bruised and cut from where I’ve flung my body over and under tree branches in the jungle sections. But I’m so happy. I’m so so so happy.  What a life we live, and what a time to feel young, alive, and beautifully free. 

Happy valentine’s day, my loves: my friends and family.  I love you for who you are, and for supporting me through this madness.  Katherine told me I’m in the deep end now, and I think it’s too late to look back. 

What a beautiful beginning to this sri lanka story, and tomorrow will begin a year of being 23.  I’m so happy.

Lots of love,

SJP

SARAH J PEMBERTON
RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016

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SARAH J PEMBERTON
RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016 competitor

Bio

I attended Chinese International School in Hong Kong for 14 years, and I received my BS from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in May 2015. I have been working at McKinsey & Co in London since September 2015, and I plan to attend Columbia Law School beginning in August 2017.

Hometown
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Management Consultant at McKinsey & Co

Why are you competing?
For friends and adventure

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